Vatican City
RNS

With anti-Semitism on the rise globally, the Vatican and the United States partnered at a virtual conference on Thursday to condemn hate crimes and violence against Jews in both Europe and the US and to reaffirm their support of the state of Israel.

“In recent years, we have witnessed the spread of a climate of evil and antagonism, in which anti-Semitic hatred has been manifested through a number of attacks in various countries,” said Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin in his remarks.

Jerusalem Mike Pompeo Friends of Zionism

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, centre, poses for a photo with Daniel Voiczek, left, general manager and CEO of the Friends of Zion Museum, and Nir Kimhi, the museum founder's representative in Israel, as he arrives for a tour of the Friends of Zion Museum, on Friday, 20th November, in Jerusalem. PICTURE: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool.

POMPEO VISITS ISRAEL MUSEUM HONOURING CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrapped up a trip to Israel on Friday with a visit to a museum in Jerusalem that honours Christian Zionists and was founded by a prominent evangelical adviser to the Trump administration.

The museum visit came a day after Pompeo became the first Secretary of State to visit an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. He also announced a new policy allowing settlement products exported to the US to be labelled “made in Israel” and a new initiative to combat the Palestinian-led international boycott movement.

Christian Zionism is a belief by some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 were in accordance with Biblical prophecy. 

The Friends of Zion Museum was founded by Mike Evans, a prominent evangelical supporter of Israel. Evangelical Christians are among President Donald Trump's most loyal supporters and have hailed his unprecedented support for Israel. They would also be an important constituency should Pompeo pursue elected office following Trump's presidency.

Pompeo did not deliver any public remarks at the museum and departed Israel midday.

The Trump administration has broken with decades of US policy to support Israel's claims to territory seized in war and to isolate and weaken the Palestinians. 

It moved the US Embassy to contested Jerusalem, adopted the position that settlements are not contrary to international law, recognized Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights - which Pompeo also visited on Thursday - and released a Mideast plan that overwhelmingly favoured Israel and was rejected by the Palestinians. It has also adopted a “maximum pressure” campaign against Israel's archenemy Iran while brokering normalisation agreements with Arab nations.

The moves Pompeo announced Thursday are largely symbolic and could be easily reversed by President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration. But it was a powerful show of support for Israel and its Christian allies.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. The Palestinians view the settlements as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace, a position shared by most of the international community.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the same war and later annexed it. Last year, the US became the first country to recognize it as part of Israel, a position Pompeo reaffirmed during his visit to the strategic plateau on Thursday. 

Biden is opposed to settlement construction and has vowed to adopt a more evenhanded approach aimed at reviving peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

- AP in Jerusalem, Israel

“The Holy See condemns all forms of anti-Semitism, recalling that such acts are neither Christian nor human,” he added, quoting Pope Francis, who has continued his predecessors' efforts to promote dialogue with the Jewish community.

The online event, which was organized by the US Embassy to the Holy See, took place only a few hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the occupied West Bank in the company of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and denounced the Boycott Israel movement as anti-Semitic.

Speakers at the conference identified three growing trends contributing to increased anti-Semitism: far-right extremists, militant Islam and anti-Zionism.

Elan S Carr, US special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, called Israel, “not only a country but humanity’s most beautiful response to something evil.

“Hatred of the Jewish state is hatred of the Jewish people,” he added.

Anti-Zionism is part of the far left's increasing tendency toward anti-Semitism, according to Carr, while on the far right, anti-Semitism is taking the shape of “torchlit marchers who wave Nazi-like banners and spew of the most vile hate on fringe media sites of the deep web".

He noted that militant Islam is the “chief source of violence” in Europe, where attacks against Jewish communities have been steadily rising. 

In the United States, awareness of anti-Semitism is slipping, said Lisa Palmieri-Billig, who represents the American Jewish Committee in Italy and is the organisation's liaison to the Holy See. She cited a recent AJC survey on anti-Semitism in the United States that found that 46 per cent of respondents “are not familiar” or “never heard of the term” anti-Semitism.

“Something is not going well in the transmission of memory to younger generations,” she said.

A newly released FBI report shows that in the US, hate crimes against Jews grew 14 per cent in 2019 compared to the previous year. Last year numerous attacks against American Jews took place, including the shooting at a synagogue in California and a spate of violent attacks in the New York area.

Carr presented “defensive measures” adopted by the US Government to address anti-Semitism, including stronger punishments for hate crimes and promoting the 31-nation International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism.

He offered as an “offensive measure” promoting a “philo-Semitic narrative" that emphasizes the importance of the Jewish community to culture and history. In this effort, he said, the Catholic Church can be a powerful ally.

Carr praised the work of Pope John Paul II in combating totalitarian regimes and promoting religious dialogue and freedom. John Paul was the first pontiff to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the first to visit a synagogue and the first to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

Carr went off-topic to underline the “enormous role that the Catholic Church stands to play in combating evil” in China, doubling down on a speech Pompeo delivered at a previous embassy event in which he urged Francis to condemn China just as the Vatican was renewing a deal with Beijing on appointing bishops in the Communist state.

Francis has already moved to combat anti-Semitism by reaching out to Jewish communities and organizations and promoting interreligious dialogue. In March, Francis opened the church's archives on Pope Pius XII, who ruled during World War II and has been accused of ignoring the Holocaust. "The church is not afraid of history," Francis said in March.

Speaking at the online conference, Parolin noted that “it is not only a matter of remembering or studying the past,” but of moving forward toward overcoming resentment.

“It is my hope, that the more Christians and Jews grow in fraternity, social friendship and dialogue, the less anti-Semitism will be possible,” he added.